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A contemporary recorded that Thomas Tompion could get as much as £10 for his clocks, whereas other London clockmakers could get only £4 to £6. This miniature striking clock made by Tompion to fit a French boulle case for Mary II c.1693 was a special commission and cost a chunky £40. This unique clock is priced at £950,000 in the John C Taylor Collection – Part II that will be on view at Carter Marsh in Winchester from November 6-27.

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“I never made a conscious decision to build an early clock collection,” he says. “It was my passion to understand the progression and innovations that led to me buying most of [these] items. I considered [each purchase] through the eyes of an inventor, entrepreneur and manufacturer – a very different perspective to most horologists and commentators.”

Now in his 80s and ever the practical man, Dr Taylor is overseeing the sale of much of his collection through Winchester dealership Carter Marsh. The first tranche of ‘the world’s most significant private assemblage of English clocks’ was offered with considerable success in June and July to be followed by a second bite at the cherry from November 6-27.

Mudge marvel

Jonathan Carter, director at Carter Marsh, said this first part comprising 46 pieces was 85% sold. Individual sales included the £1.2m Mudge Green, one of two shagreen-cased marine timekeepers made by Thomas Mudge (1715-94) as he pitched for the Longitude Prize in 1777.

“Despite the challenges of Covid, the summer of 2021 was exceptionally busy so the Part II exhibition represents the climax to a quite remarkable year for us,” added Carter.

“It is immensely gratifying to see that the horological market is in such a healthy state. Of course these items represent a once in a lifetime’s opportunity, but really this is entirely thanks to the continuing passion and interest of horological collectors worldwide.”

Dr Taylor’s success began in the mid-1960s with the design of a series of bimetallic over-temperature controls for all portable domestic heaters. Averaging sales of 250,000 units per week for more than 55 years (they are still in production today), it yielded the funds to buy the very best.

“There are three essential ingredients to starting a successful collection: time, inclination and money – and I was lucky enough to have all three,” he says.

A fourth component when building a collection of this gravitas is the availability of masterworks. Clock collecting in the past two generations has afforded access to the ‘aces’ that are simply not available in some disciplines. So many of these pieces are museum quality and of great historical importance.

True accuracy in clockmaking was initiated by the introduction of the pendulum in 1657. This second part of the collection includes one of the very first pendulum clocks dated 1658. It is signed by Salomon Coster (c.1623-59) of The Hague and but possibly made by the London clockmaker John Fromanteel (1638- 82), who was one of several artisans under contract to Coster at the time.

It is one of only five surviving Coster early pendulum timepieces, of which three are in museums: two in the Netherlands and one in the Science Museum, London.

Last sold as part of the Spaans collection at Christie’s Amsterdam in 2007 when it made €471,000, it is priced today at £950,000 – the biggest number in the Part II catalogue.

Taylor’s collection included a trio of clocks from Thomas Tompion’s full grand sonnerie series – movements that could strike both the quarter and the hour every 15 minutes (or 4992 chimes a week). Across his career Tompion (1639-1713) made just 13 of them for the wealthiest of his blue-blood clients.

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The Grimthorpe Brock was the personal timepiece of the designer of the Palace of Westminster clock, Edward Denison (later Lord Grimthorpe). It was made by James Brock, foreman of the clockmakers EJ Dent, in 1852 and is regulated by Denison’s own gravity escapement, a version of which he later incorporated into ‘Big Ben’. It is priced at £50,000.

The original owner of the £795,000 Pearson Tompion, the last and the most mechanically sophisticated of the three extant numbered full grande sonnerie longcases, is unknown.

However, it was made c.1703 soon after Queen Anne’s succession, when her husband, Prince George of Denmark, finally had access to the funding that enabled him to become Tompion’s leading patron. A case with burr walnut veneers and bespoke construction features confirm that it too was specially commissioned to complement the complex three-train repeating movement. Dr Taylor bought it from Asprey’s at the Grosvenor House Antiques Fair in 1997 when it was priced at £255,000.

A clock with a definite royal pedigree (one on preview in London in July) is a remarkable miniature striker made for Queen Mary. In the early 1690s she ordered a small but highly fashionable pewter, brass and scarlet tortoiseshell ‘boulle’ clock case from Paris, and then asked Tompion to make a striking movement and an engraved dial and backplate to fit

His bespoke miniature striking clock was delivered in August 1693 at a cost of £40 – the bill still surviving in the royal archives of that year. This unique clock with Tompion’s signature ‘hidden’ within the matting of the dial measures just under 12in (30cm) high. It is priced at £950,000.

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This historically important regulator with temperature compensation by John Ellicott was ordered by the Royal Society for £35 8s c.1760 for use during the two transits of Venus of 1761 and 1768 – an opportunity to calculate a measure of the radius of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, one of the fundamental distances in astronomy. It was sent to Sumatra in 1761 with Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (of Mason-Dixon line fame) and then in 1769 to Hudson’s Bay in Canada. The regulator was later owned by Admiral Lord Howe. He attended the planning meetings for the second transit, and the clock may have been acquired by him after the instruments started to be dispersed from 1772. Bought in 2009 for £100,000, it is now priced at £80,000 in the John C Taylor Collection – Part II that will be on view at Carter Marsh in Winchester from November 6-27.

Prices for every pocket

With 48 clocks, instruments and related collectables and prices ranging upwards from £500, it is not all six-figure sums.

“What is particularly exciting about this section of the collection is that there are items here of extraordinary rarity for every pocket – just as they were at the time,” says Carter Marsh partner Darrell Dipper.

“There are many interesting and more affordable items besides, by makers such as Sutton, Hilderson, Knottesford, Jones, Puller, Massey, Gould, Ellicott, Shelton and Brock.”

These include a striking longcase clock movement made by Abraham Fromanteel (son of Ahasuerus) in Newcastle c.1685 and an early 18th century set of boxwood Napier’s Bones priced at £2500 each.

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This gold and enamel pre-balance spring calendar watch by Isack Pluvier c.1664 has a subsidiary seconds dial – possibly the first on an English watch. It was first owned by Frances Stuart, Duchess of Richmond and Lennox (1647-1702), who was renowned as ‘La Belle Stuart’. Samuel Pepys described her as “the greatest beauty I ever saw”, while Charles II was infatuated and spent four years between 1663-67 trying and failing to make her his mistress. As Pluvier, a Huguenot maker, died in the Great Plague of 1665, it is possible that this watch with its Venus and Cupid dial was a love token from the smitten king. Bought by John Taylor at Sotheby’s in 2005 for £50,400, it is priced at £65,000.

Probably made to mark his eventual acceptance as a freeman of the city of Oxford is a copper trade token issued by the great Joseph Knibb c.1688. Minted in small quantities with a value of just a farthing, it reads Joseph Knibb Clockmaker in Oxon to the covers and depicts a clock face and the initials IK to the reverse. It is priced at £3500.

The show titled Dr John C Taylor Collection Part II: An Inventor’s Passion for Time runs in Winchester from November 6-27 with an accompanying catalogue full of scholarly information about every clock and instrument on offer now available. n

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